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USPTO Invalidates Apple's Pinch-to-Zoom Patent

Apple has faced yet another roadblock in its quest to squash both rival Samsung and Android. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has temporarily invalidated Apple's US Patent No. 7,844,915 which covers the "pinch to zoom" smartphone navigation feature. This was one of the key patents Apple used against Samsung back in August which helped land the iPhone maker $1.05 billion in damages.

In a letter sent to Apple's lawyers on Wednesday, the USPTO stated that it had completed a re-examination of the pinch-to-zoom patent, and rejected all of Apple's claims. The Office cited published documents and older patents as the basis of its rejection, calling Apple's supposed inventions "unpatentable". The invalidation isn't final, and Apple will have a chance to appeal.

Samsung, which received a copy of the USPTO letter, filed it with the court on Thursday, saying that it was relevant to its request for a new trial. It is also expected to help fend off Apple's continued request for a permanent injunction against the South Korean manufacturer's "infringing" products. A U.S. judge denied on Monday Apple's request for a permanent injunction.

Earlier this month, the USPTO issued a "first Office action" rejecting all twenty claims of "the Steve Jobs patent," otherwise known as U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 ('949). It covers a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics". A reexamination request against the '949 patent was denied by the USPTO back in 2010, but a recent second request resulted in the opening of a reexamination proceeding, and the current invalidation.

The USPTO also declared all twenty claims in Apple's "rubber-banding" patent, aka U.S. Patent No. 7,469,381, invalid in a non-final Office action back in October. The patent in question, "List scrolling and document translation, scaling, and rotation on a touch-screen display," describes what happens when iOS users reach the end of a scrolling list or pane, among other things. Users see the screen somewhat "bounce" as if its connected to the device with rubber bands.

Yet now with three patent strikes against Apple, it's unclear if the findings will have any impact on its case against Samsung. All three are merely temporary invalidations, and it could be years before the USPTO presents a final verdict.

"Many patent claims that are rejected at this stage do ultimately survive," Foss Patents said earlier this month. "There are many steps inside the USPTO, followed by a potential appeal to the Federal Circuit. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of a first Office action. Also, a complete rejection of all claims of a given patent is potentially more devastating than one affecting only some claims."

Apple and Samsung have been locked in a patent war across more than ten countries world-wide for some time. Unfortunately, verdicts haven't been consistent on a global scale, blurring the line between who is wrong and who is right in the overall infringement dispute. As an example, back in October the Dutch court ruled that Samsung did not infringe on Apple's multi-touch patent despite the U.S. ruling.

Representatives for Samsung and Apple have yet to make a comment on the new patent invalidation.

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  • A Bad Day
    For USPTO:

    Invalidating an absurd patent: One step forward

    Green-lighting an absurd patent: One step backward.

    And it seems as if it's taking more steps backward than forward sadly...
  • davewolfgang
    Are they finally realizing they are looking stupiderer-er-er-er every time they "approve" one of these that EVERYONE KNOWS has been around for years?

    Or are they maybe worried about actually losing their jobs because of all the junk they are approving...??
  • wannabepro
    I am going to patent the right to be stupid.

    OH WAIT. The USPTO already did...
  • A Bad Day
    wannabeproI am going to patent the right to be stupid.OH WAIT. The USPTO already did...
    How are you going to patent it? IBM has or filed a patent on a process of filing a patent.
  • wannabepro
    A Bad DayHow are you going to patent it? IBM has or filed a patent on a process of filing a patent.Good point..
    We could pull an Apple and sue them..
  • nukemaster
    Bout damn time
  • A Bad Day
    wannabeproGood point.. We could pull an Apple and sue them..
    IBM files more patents annually than Apple does.
  • benji720
    I feel like there should be a massive cash penalty toward a company every time that company's patent gets invalidated. It could be 3% of their gross annual sales of the device in question. The money could go to school systems. It would discourage the rampant abuse we see and encourage more competition. It would definitely lead to fewer and more carefully worded patents.
  • JamesSneed
    I would venture a guess IBM files more patents per month than Apple does annually. IBM has been for years and 2011 was no different it was granted 6180 patents for the top spot of number of patents granted. Apple doesn't make the top 10 but Samsung was number 2 in 2011.
  • digiex
    The sympathy towards Job's death is fading, and also with Apple's luster.